Arpad Szenes was born in 1897 in Budapest (Hungary) into a family of intellectuals and artists. He mixed with artists at an early age, and rapidly demonstrated a talent for drawing and painting. At the same time he was introduced to international contemporary art by his friend, the sculptor Desider Bokros-Bierman. After his military service (1916–1918), Szenes entered the free Academy of Budapest, where he was taught by József Rippl Rónai, founder of the Circle of Hungarian Impressionists and Naturalists. Rónai knew Matisse, Maillol, Bonnard and Vuillard: artists who inspired Szenes as pioneers in pictorial exploration before the Great War. After a rst exhibition of abstract paintings in 1922 at the Ernst Museum in Budapest, in 1924, Arpad Szenes began a long journey across Europe, which took him to Berlin, Munich, Italy and in 1925, Paris, where he drew caricatures in Montmartre' cafés to earn a living. In 1928, he met Maria Helena Vieira da Silva at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. They married the following year, setting up home in the Villa des Camélias. In 1930 they spent several months in Hungary and Transylvania, in an art colony.Read More
In 1931, Szenes worked on engraving at Hayter's Atelier 17, where he met the Surrealist painters Miró and Max Ernst. He and Vieira da Silva went to meetings of the Amis du Monde group, becoming close to Étienne Hajdu, and later Estève and Pignon. He exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants. In 1932, Szenes and Vieira da Silva met Jeanne Bucher at her rst Galerie-Bibliothèque in Rue du Cherche-Midi. She already knew their work, which she had selected at the Surindépendants, and from then on promoted them tirelessly. In 1933, Szenes' discovery of Kafka's Metamorphosis made a deep impression on him, and he produced a series of engravings on the theme. Until the beginning of the war, Szenes and Vieira da Silva regularly visited Portugal, where they stayed in Lisbon in 1935 and 1936. In 1937, he decorated the Pour la paix section of the Paris International Exhibition with Jean Lurçat. In 1939, Szenes and Vieira da Silva left Paris, entrusting their studio and paintings to Jeanne Bucher, and settled in Lisbon. In 1940, the couple left Europe for Brazil. When they arrived in Santa Teresa on the slopes of Corcovado, they opened a studio, which became a great success. Szenes exhibited not only in Rio de Janeiro but also at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Cincinnati Art Museum. He returned to France in 1947. There he began his series of long horizontal paintings entitled Banquets. In 1949, Jeanne Bucher hosted his rst solo exhibition and the French State made its first purchase from him: Composition (l'Atelier), 1948. In 1950, he worked on various themes: Conversations, Ateliers (already begun in Brazil), and above all, the Banquets. In 1956, he and his wife took French citizenship. After a trip to Spain and Portugal in 1958, Szenes started to paint a series of landscapes–Labours, Espagne and Castille–, which took on outsize proportions with the Labours of 1961.
Several retrospectives of his work were staged from 1972 onwards, including at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and at Jeanne Bucher's gallery in 1974. In 1976, Arpad Szenes travelled to Rome with Vieira da Silva when he was appointed to the jury of the Grand Prix de Rome. Szenes died in his Paris studio on 16 January 1985 at a certain age which allows him to declare 'Maybe painters live a long time because their work is non-violent and contemplative... You need a long life in order to do a great many stupid things, and a few master- pieces.'
Text courtesy Galerie Laurentin, Paris - Bruxelles.
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